Monday 28 December 2015

Vanity Fair - the art deco years.

A number of magazines have been published under the name of Vanity Fair. The first of these was an American publication that ran from 1859-1863, whilst the most recent version, also American commenced in 1983 and covers fashion, culture and politics. A friend of mine recently gave me a gift of 100 postcards featuring covers from the 1913-36 version of the magazine, many of them in the art deco style and designed by such luminaries as artists Miguel Covarrubias and Eduardo Garcia Benito.

October 1927 edition, Eduardo Garcia Benito.
Edited by Conde Montrose Nast, the magazine focused on fashion and popular culture. Nast employed Frank Crowinshield as his edit who in turn put together a formidable editorial team consisting of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood. These three were original members of the fashionable set that became the Algonquin Round Table, meeting at the hotel of the same name. Their escapades can be seen in the 1994 movie Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. Interestingly, Benchley was played by his grandson. As well as this core team, Vanity Fair also attracted writing from the likes of Aldous Huxley, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Wolfe, P. G. Wodehouse and Ferenc Molnar. By 1925 it was competing with The New Yorker for the position of top publication for America's cultural elite. 

March 1928 edition, Eduardo Garcia Benito
August 1929 edition, Eduardo Garcia Benito
June 1930 edition, Eduardo Garcia Benito
Competition between magazines was (and is) fierce and in order to win and retain followers many of the most prominent artists of the 1920's and 1930's were employed to design front covers that would stand out from the competing titles and that would be modern and stylish. Some of my favourite covers from this period were the work of the already mentioned Eduardo Garcia Benito.  Born in Spain in 1891, he studied in Paris where he mixed with Picasso, Gris, Modigliani and Gaugin, establishing himself as a portraitist, illustrator and decorative artist. He exhibited at the Antwerp Expo in 1920 before going on to illustrate a number of French newspapers and to paint portraits of the famous, including of actress Gloria Swanson. The covers I have selected here are typical of his art deco period, three of them displaying super fashionable couples - the June 1930 edition influenced one by developments in Asian deco, and the fourth showing a group of friends at the theatre - perhaps based on Mrs Parker and her followers!

Mexican artist, Miguel Covarrubias also produced covers for Vanity Fair. After studying in Mexico City, he moved to New York where his countryman, the poet Jose Juan Tablada introduced him to the city's cultural elite which led to him working for several magazines. He worked in a range of genres including caricature, book illustration and painting. Covarrubias loved the New York jazz scene, was friends with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and visited Harlem jazz clubs in the company of Eugene O'Neill. This love of jazz resulted in his producing illustrations based on the musicians and jazz club patrons, several of which appeared in the magazine. The examples of his work included here are from 1932 of a very art deco stylised female tennis player and from 1936, an image entitled Bali Beauty.
February 1936 edition, Miguel Covarrubia.
August 1932 edition, Miguel Covarrubia

Artists who worked in other styles were also employed. Italian Futurist, Fortunato Depero produced a wonderful cover for the July 1930 edition, showing a fiendish figure smoking one cigarette with another one impaled on his devilish horns. The striking image together with the bright red, green and orange colours must have encouraged many purchases. Depero also worked as a sculptor and has further claims to design fame having been responsible for the Campari Soda bottle still used today and for a famous poster for San Pellegrino's magnesia.
Many other artists worked for the magazine during this period and several of them continued to produce work for the magazine after it merged with Vogue in 1936. Those 23 short years between 1913 and the merger produced some of the most influential art deco fashion illustrations ever, many of which are still in demand either as posters or in postcard format. A few more of my favourites are included below. A big thanks to my friend Pam for a great present!

July 1930 edition, Fortuanto Depero
June 1929 edition, Marion Wildman
March 1930 edition, Constantin Alajalov.
June 1931 edition, Wadsworth.


  1. The August 1929 issue was the very first vintage magazine I ever bought. I found it at Knott's Berry Farm about 1971. It began my lifelong love with Art Deco ephemera. I now have over 125 magazines in my collection (mostly Harper's Bazar) and I use them as visual tools in my lectures on Art Deco. Cheers, Stephan

    1. Hello Stephan and thanks for your comments. That's quite a collection you have now!

  2. Happy and healthy 2016!

    I am managing the History Carnival for January 2016 and need nominations for your own blog post or someone else’s by 31/1/2016. The theme I have chosen is History of the Visual, Performing, Musical and Literary Arts, but all good history posts will be welcomed. Your films, posters and other visual arts would be perfect.

    Examine previous History Carnivals at

    The January 2016 nomination form is at